Saturday, January 21, 2012

theatre heresy

One of my favorite comments that I get from actors I’ve just met who come from a theatre school or theatre grad school background is that my acting is ‘...very naturalistic.’ Or ‘organic.’

Now, I am not so stupid as to miss the underlying intent of comments like these; unsults are hilariously pathetic to me, the product of people so weak and insecure and false that they can’t even come right out and honestly dislike something or someone; they must couch their bitterness and distaste in false praise.

And of course there's truth in these comments, and they are not always meant snottily.

But honestly I always take comments like this about my acting as compliments. To me there’s nothing more painful in the world of the stage than watching someone ‘act-act,’ as they were taught to do by some well-meaning but douchetastically inept instructor.

So when I got David Mamet’s ‘True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor,’ I was deeply gratified to see that Mr. Mamet supports my views and my (admittedly accidental and back-assward) education in the theatre.

I just read nearly the whole thing in a night (and mostly re-read it immediately after I finished it) and I recommend it highly to all my actor friends, and even to anyone remotely interested in what acting and theatre entail. It could even be read as a treatise on what it is to be honest in one’s life, true to oneself and emotionally honest with our fellow humans in a larger sense.

Most people familiar with the man’s work either despise Mamet or worship him; there rarely seems to be a middle ground. But it’s hard to argue with his success: 30 years of writing for the stage, for film and for television, directing, acting, a Pulitzer, Oscar nominations--all of this gives him a unique perspective when it comes to performance and what it takes for an actor to deliver.

And what he does here is burn to the ground a number of sacred cows, starting with theatre education:

'Let me be impolite: most teachers of acting are frauds, and their schools offer nothing other than the right to consider oneself a part of the theatre. Students, of course, need a place to develop. That place is upon the stage. Such a model can and probably will be more painful than a life spent in the studios. But it will instruct. And it is probably finally kinder to the audience to subject them to untutored exuberance than to lifeless and baseless confidence.'

Is that not the shit!?!?!? '...lifeless and baseless confidence...' --only Mamet.

'Here's what I learned from a lifetime of play-writing: it doesn't matter how you say the lines. What matters is what you mean. What comes from the heart goes to the heart.'

Mamet reflecting the old hip-hop adage, 'Real recognize real.'

And it's true. So many actors feel the need to twist and vocally mangle the words in front of them in order to infuse them with some meaning that simply isn't there. I worked with an actor some time ago who absolutely refused to simply say a very funny playwright's very funny lines as the jokes and punchlines they were intended to be. The result was quirky, indeed, which I'm sure was the intent, but it was also not funny, and not at all genuine.

The result was a person trying very very hard to look more interesting--which is of course self-absorption, which is of course the opposite of acting, which, we are all told all the time is Listening. If you're so busy listening to the sound of your own voice and the funny little kooky quirks you put into it, how can you possibly be listening to anyone else on the stage?

And possibly my favorite quote of all:
'Invent nothing, deny nothing, speak up, stand up, stay out of school.'

More on this later.

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